Chye tau kueh (fried savoury radish cake)

Recently, some friends gobbled down two plates of chye tau kueh from the hawker centre in front of me whilst I munched on my gluten-free carob muffin. They felt a bit guilty comparing their fried dish with my healthy snack but actually I really wished I could eat chye tau kueh too!

I came home and flipped through my mountain of cookbooks and finally found a somewhat poorly-written recipe for ‘Singapore-Styled Stir-Fried Turnip Pudding 星洲炒蘿蔔糕’ in a Hong Kong produced cookbook called Asian Snacks Cooking Course 亞洲小食製作教程.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a more authentic recipe in any of my Malaysian cookbooks (an excuse to buy even more :) ?!?). Anyway, it worked really well so am sharing here with you. You may want to compare this recipe with the one from Lily’s Wai Sek Hong.

This is a great snack option that’s wheat- and gluten-free, also no sugar. As long as you don’t find fried foods too unhealthy :).

INGREDIENTS FOR STEAMED RADISH CAKE

960g white radish/daikon
320g rice flour

Wash, peel and chop the daikon.

Use a blender to puree it, then using a sieve, squeeze out as much juice as possible. You need 3 cups of daikon juice.

Mix rice flour with daikon juice in a pot over low heat. The original recipe only uses the juice, but I put in all the daikon pulp as well so as not to waste it.

Stir until it the mixture thickens. This part requires careful attention as it can take quite a while to thicken on low heat but if the stove is too hot, it will clump together very quickly.

Pour the thickened batter into a greased mould, such as an aluminium cake tin. A 9-inch round tin is actually better than the one I used in the photo because it won’t be so full, and because the cake won’t be in such a thick layer, it will take a shorter time to be fully cook. Dark-coloured heavy cake tins are not good for steaming, they don’t seem to conduct heat very well.

Steam for 1 hour. Test for doneness with a chopstick, which should come out clean.


FRIED RADISH CAKE

Cut the steamed and cooled cake into cubes.

Fry ingredients of your choice until fragrant, such as garlic, shallots, minced meat, red or green chilli, spring onions. Add seasonings of your choice.  Traditionally, this is cooked with thick dark soya sauce and preserved turnip and preserved Chinese sausages are a must, with a special chilli sauce for those who like it spicy.

Add the steamed radish cake cubes and fry until browned.

Push ingredients to one side of the wok (or remove from pan), add a beaten egg and when semi-cooked, toss well with all the other ingredients.

My version shown below is cooked with salt (or organic tamari), garlic, stir-fried shallots, green and red capsicums, and topped with raw spring onions and deep fried shallots.

Verdict: close enough to the real thing to keep me happy! Loved the distinct daikon taste in the cake. Now if I can just figure out how to make preserved turnip or chye poh at home, the other members of the family might actually enjoy this as much as me :).

Nearly 1kg of daikon makes a lot of chye tau kueh and I had this in my lunch bento for days!! Next time I’ll only make half the quantity!

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This is what I call a yam

In an earlier posting, I explained how what we call ‘yams’ here in Singapore, are really taro.

So just to avoid any further confusion, this is what I mean whenever I referred to yams on this blog:

Taro top
Taro cross section

This is a ‘mini yam’ and I prefer these to the full-sized taro because they cook faster, you can cook them individually in their skins and they are naturally snack/bento sized portions. Put them in your bento with the skins on and they’ll transport really well. The skins are also crisp and come off very easily when cooked.

The taro shown here has already been steamed and is all ready to be enjoyed after peeling off the skin. I dip them in sea salt, but soya sauce is great too. Or simply plain.

Carrot Cake II

Carrot Cake II

This really wasn’t I had intended to make. After the success with the first carrot cake recipe, I had planned to adapt it with a tropical touch including banana and coconut oil.

So I bought a bunch of Dole bananas, and (un)fortunately, before launching into cake-baking, I ate one of the bananas on its own. Within a few bites, I was having the worst fruit/veg reaction I’d had in a many, many months when the inside of my mouth starting itching. Ever since the food intolerances became a major problem last June, I’d noticed mild oral itching to bananas (including fried bananas, goreng pisang) and stayed away since then. After such a long period of banana-avoidance I expected the food sensitivity to improve but not at all! Bananas don’t have high levels of salicylates (and I can tolerate reasonable amounts of just about all other fruits and vegetables now, so salicylates aren’t a big problem for me anymore), and I don’t have severe intolerance to amines – unless it’s the amines in cheese that give me this terrible reaction. Banana allergy is well-documented (see also here): it’s classified as either reaction to birch-tree pollen or latex allergy and allergenicity increases with ripeness. However, I don’t think I react to the other substances in either of those categories though. Anyway, whatever it is, this was another crucial food challenge for me. It’s a good thing I didn’t go through the effort of making the cake only to find I couldn’t eat it. Goodbye, bananas ;_;!

Then I discovered there was only one egg left in the fridge and there was simply no time to go out and get some more. I had run of snacks to eat and was in the middle of a really hectic few days, so I really had to bake something during that window of time I’d managed to squeeze out. With a quick internet search, I ended up with this super-easy carrot cake recipe from Delia Smith that only needed one egg!

As with every recipe I attempt,  I reduced the amount of sugar; for this cake: 33g instead of 75g. My general rule is about a third or a quarter of the recipe quantity but I also judge by sight, comparing the amount of sugar with the amount of flour and other ingredients.

I replaced 1/3 cup of vegetable oil with coconut oil, not wanting to overwhelm the cake with coconut flavour by using entirely coconut oil, but in the end, I couldn’t taste it at all!

Being too lazy to make the cream cheese frosting. I simply slathered the cream cheese directly onto the cake. Guess that’s also a good way to cut down on the sugar and butter content! Unfrosted cakes also travel better in bento.

Quite unlike the previous carrot cake I baked, this one uses the muffin method of mixing, and specifies that dark brown sugar be used. Like Delia Smith’s other carrot cakes, it uses wholemeal flour (great!). These elements produced a closer, denser texture and dark colour more akin the heavy carrot cakes I like, but overall it wasn’t an outstanding cake. I would prefer to experiment with other carrot cake recipes rather than bake this one again.

Q: When is a yam not a yam?

A: When it’s a sweet potato or a taro!

I have recently discovered that I have been using imprecise names, and probably confused some of you in other parts of the world where different words are used.

For example, I learnt from reading this that in America, what are called ‘yams’ are really varieties of sweet potato which have a moist texture.

In contrast, I have been referring to taro as ‘yam’, basically equating anything we call in Chinese yu4tou3 芋頭 with ‘yam’. While one could put it down to a combination of my poor plant-recognition skills and half-baked linguistic ability, I’m not the only person who equates yu4tou3 芋頭 and ‘yam’; so does this bilingual food blog from Singapore. And after all, we call steamed 芋頭糕 yu4tou2gao1 [Mandarin]/ wu tao gou [Cantonese], ‘Yam Cake’ (and I made some Shredded Yam Cake 芋絲餅). Lily’s Wai Sek Hong, a Malaysian writing from America helps to unravel the puzzle with this explanation:

In Malaysia, ‘Woo Tau’ in Cantonese is called YAM but it is TARO here in the States and yam is sweet potato.

Trying to look for bilingual dictionary definitions can be hugely confusing too. On the Chinese-language internet, the most common list of food words provides this translation:

yam — shan1yu4 — 山芋
taro — yu4tou2 — 芋头

On the other hand, my US-produced dictionary follows the American usage:

sweet potato — shan1yu4 — 山芋
yam — shu3 — 薯

[How, er, not helpful: ma3ling2shu3 馬鈴 = potato; mu4shu3 木薯 = tapioca; and to Southeast Asian Chinese, fan1shu3= sweet potato, following Cantonese usage, cf. China, where sweet potatoes are called di4gua1 地瓜].

But back to 山芋 (shan1yu4 in Mandarin). When pronounced in Japanese, it’s yamaimo — that very special ingredient needed to make okonomiyaki! Yamaimo is usually translated into English as ‘mountain yam’.

To get to the root (no pun intended!) of the issue, we’ll have to look at the botanical names:
yam — genus: Dioscorea
taro — genus: Colocasia
sweet potato — genus: Ipomoea

While the Colocasia genus comprises only six to eight different types of flowering plants, there are 600 varieties of Dioscorea, of which the edible ones are known as yams. The genus Ipomoea also has over 500 species, some of which we commonly recognise as the morning glory flower, and others in the form of edible tubers, i.e. sweet potatoes.

Within the Dioscorea family, the species of edible tubers we call yams come in a mind-boggling diversity. From the long, cream-coloured, stick-like Chinese/Japanese mountain yam 山芋, to huge, dark brown, ugly, knobly lumps. But don’t be put off by the external appearance, a yam that looked like a piece of elephant dung on the outside, turned out like this:

Purple Yam

Aren’t the variegated colours beautiful? I have no idea what the correct name for this kind of yam is, but here’s a photo of the whole tuber from a Japanese blog that refers to it as murasaki yamaimo 紫山芋, ‘purple yam’. Unfortunately, to me this was rather bland, taste-wise, and too dry and powdery in texture for my liking (think of powdery potatoes, the kind used for baked potatoes, as compared to the smooth, waxy kind used for roast potatoes).

Previously, I was also wasthe misconception that yams are always purple and anything purple is a yam. After all, yam-flavoured ice cream is always purple isn’t it? Of course that’s just food colouring, but it is based on the perception that yams are purple. It was only when I bought purple sweet potatoes for these two-coloured sweet potato balls and this purple soup, did I realise that yams do not have a monopoly on this rich colour.

Here’s a photo from Nakashima Farms, a Californian-Japanese producer of sweet potatoes, showing the four varieties they sell. I was amazed and impressed by the different coloured flesh (yikes! no wonder the sweet potato I bought didn’t look like the one in the recipe book!).

Sweet Potatoes Colours

The purple sweet potato shown here is known as the Okinawan variety from Japan. I’m not sure whether the ones I got for the two-coloured sweet potato balls and purple soup were also the Okinawan variety, but they were labelled as originating from Thailand (purchased in Sheng Siong).

Right now, my favourite kind is the Japanese variety, satsumaimo さつまいも, shown on the extreme left (or see photo here). It’s purple on the outside but not on the inside ^_^. The pale yellow flesh is sweet and very smooth. In contrast, the typical local sweet potatoes, which are orange both outside and within, I’ve found are extremely fibrous, making the texture unpleasant when eating them whole, and necessitating a lot of sieving if you want to use them in recipes like the two-coloured sweet potato balls.

Satsumaimo from Japan can be rather pricey, so an alternative is are the ‘Japanese sweet potatoes’ grown in Vietnam. They are usually very small – just the right size for a snack bento – and are often sold in bags at the supermarket. The other day, I bought a full-sized satsumaimo for the first time, and found it much more satisfying than the tiny Vietnamese ones.

Now that we’ve got yam, taro and sweet potato sorted out, what about the difference between roots, tubers, corms and rhizomes? … Maybe another time, my head is spinning already :P.

If you’re dying to pursue this line of inquiry further, do have a look at this page from S. J. Kays at the University of Georgia on Cultivated Edible Root, Tuber, Rhizome, Bulb and Corm Crops of the World, which includes a list of the most commonly cultivated root and tuber crops with their names in sixteen different languages (and botanical name, of course), photographs and even bibliographies of the latest scientific publications on each variety. From a more culinary perspective, the Cook’s Thesaurus on ‘Sweet Potatoes & Yams‘ as well as on ‘Tubers & Corms‘ are a good reference.

P.S. Maybe you’ve guessed already, my favourite rhizome is wasabi (^_*)!

Carrot cake

I’m currently in a baking phase, taking a break from the steamed Chinese snacks I was experimenting with a couple of months ago, so this is American-style carrot cake from the book, Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America, not Chinese ‘carrot cake’ which is actually made from white radish/ 蘿蔔/daikon. The reason why the Chinese radish cake is called ‘carrot cake’ is because in Chinese, daikon is known as luobo 蘿蔔 and carrots are referred to as red luobo 紅蘿蔔.

I found this an interesting cake recipe as it uses bread flour. Most cakes use wheat flour of medium or low protein content. Specialised ‘cake flour’ has only 6%-8% protein, as compared to 10%-12% for all-purpose, medium-protein, flour. Low protein content gives a light, crumbly texture for cakes, whereas a high level of protein has more gluten and therefore produces the stretchy consistency desirable in bread.

Carrot Cake

Ingredients

2/3 cups sugar [reduced from 1&2/3 cups, i.e. I reduced from 5 parts to 2 parts]
[omitted 1/2 tsp salt]

1&2/3 cups bread flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder

3 large eggs
2/3 cup vegetable oil

2 cups grated carrots [coarsely grated carrot is more visible and gives a rustic texture; I finely grated half and coarsely grated the other half]
1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts

Method

1) Sift sugar (and salt, if using).

2) In separate bowl, sift flour, cinnamon, baking soda and baking powder. I was silly and forgot that I have wholemeal bread flour in stock (Waitrose is the only brand I have found in Singapore that produces wholemeal high-protein flour, a.k.a. bread flour, as I mentioned here), so I used white bread flour (unbleached, organic, 12% protein, from Origins Healthcare – it’s labelled as high-protein flour, but this could still be considered as medium-protein).

N.B.: I have since discovered that Origins Healthcare also produces a ‘peak performer’ 14% protein version. This is not reflected on their website and yesterday was the first time I’ve seen it being sold – at Just Organic Wellness located at Tan Tock Seng Hospital #01-06.

3) The first major process is to whip the eggs. Use an electric mixer to beat them at medium speed until thick, about 3 minutes. Increase to high speed and beat until ‘the eggs fall in thick ribbons from the whisk’, about 4 minutes.

It was my first time using this method of preparing the eggs and I noticed that while the mixture started out yellow, they ended up a pale cream colour. This colour change is what I couldn’t understand when I looked at the original recipe for this steamed Chinese sponge cake.

Gradually add the oil while continuing to whip until evenly blended.

4) Add the sifted flour mixture, beating on low speed until just blended. It’s important not to overbeat so that the air that has been incorporated is not beaten out of the batter.

5) Fold in carrots and walnuts by hand using a spatula.

6) Pour batter into greased 10-inch tube pan or Bundt pan, or follow my standard practice of using silicone baking cups for handy single-serve portions which are also great for bento.

7) Bake in oven pre-heated to 175°C/ 350°F until a skewer comes out clean. 20 mins for cupcake size, or 45-50 mins for 10-inch tube pan.

8) Cool completely before icing and slicing. The cake can be served with custard sauce, cream cheese icing or cream. I simply spread sour cream on top just before eating.

Verdict: I love this cake!! It’s so moist and soft, beautiful texture, and incorporates so much vegetable (who needs Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious?!)! My family members agreed that it’s more than adequately sweet even with the much-reduced sugar content.

However, I tend to like my carrot cake with a coarse, rustic texture, which this cake certainly did not have. Will have to try out some other carrot cake recipes instead. I should also do more research on the different cake textures produced by different mixing methods – Joe Pastry has excellent explanations of baking basics, including different mixing methods and leavening methods.

17/3/08 update: I tried a different carrot cake recipe, read about it here.

7//04/08 update: Recently made this carrot cake recipe again, using wholemeal bread flour instead of plain bread flour. The texture was noticeably not as fine and smooth as with the white flour and had a distinctive (but not unpleasant) slightly gritty texture. As far as possible, I always use wholemeal flour as it’s healthier so I will probably stick to using it for this recipe, unless I’m baking for others who are not used to wholegrain foods.

Fresh wasabi & Isetan shopping delights of the day

Given the paucity of bento gear outside of Daiso, I was impressed to see on sale in Isetan’s household section bread-slice-shaped sandwich cutters similar to the one used by Lunch in a Box. They’re hanging on a shelf with other fun-shaped cutters underneath a TV playing a promotional video of some Japanese kitchen gadget.

Isetan supermarket always has some kind of Japanese food promotion going on, and up till tomorrow, it’s a ‘Japanese Sweets Fair’ with various kinds of wagashi, such as steamed manju (饅頭) buns and demonstrations of dorayaki pancake making, and ‘teyaki tsugarugi senbei honpo’ (crackers with nuts).

Isetan sweets fair Click on picture for larger image of Isetan flyer.

It was also fun looking at the pre-packaged daifuku, warabi mochi and sakura mochi made from doumyoji as inspiration for future cooking projects ^_^.

However, what excited me the most was seeing fresh wasabi root on sale again! It’s not often they appear on the supermarket shelves in Singapore, which isn’t really surprising considering how difficult it is to grow wasabi, and even in Japan, only five percent of sushi shops use fresh wasabi root, with chefs paying up to ¥1,000 or more for a fresh wasabi root (read all about wasabi here)!

Wasabi rhizome

The last time I managed to buy fresh wasabi was when Isetan was having a Shizuoka promotion – Shizuoka being the home of wasabi-growing. The descriptions of wasabi growing in cold, clear mountain streams surrounded in gentle mist (see this photo) only help to enhance my infatuation with this rhizome.

The main reason, however, is the surprising delicate, yet complex, taste of fresh wasabi. A very pale green when grated, its hotness is tempered by a sharp bitter edge and a wonderful sweetness! Aside from using it as a sushi dip with soya sauce, I love wasabi with all kinds of meats, and in sandwiches it tastes so much nicer than powdered mustard which only made my food take on the aroma of rotten eggs :P. I’ve also eaten it smeared thinly over okonomiyaki. Here are my bento which have used wasabi in some way. Check out also this Shizuoka blog for suggestions on alternative ways to enjoy wasabi.

It should be no surprise that fresh grated wasabi tastes quite different from processed wasabi in tubes because the latter is actually made from a mixture with horseradish (a plant only introduced to Japan from Europe in the 19th century), colourings and flavourings etc. as this comprehensive list of ingredients shows. A much better alternative is the powdered wasabi from health food shops, such as Mitoku brand wasabi powder. While this powdered version may not be made from pure wasabi either (horseradish and mustard are commonly mixed in), at least it isn’t full of artificial additives and the unnatural lurid green colour of commercial supermarket powdered wasabi.

4/2/08 update : I experimented with eating wasabi in an alternative manner: by making very fine slices then frying them crisp and eating as topping on noodles. Well, I won’t be doing this again! They were rather bitter, no hint of characteristic wasabi hotness, and were more hard than crisp.

Purple soup: sweet potato & yam

Purple soup

Remember the two-coloured sweet potato balls? This is what I did with the extra purple sweet potato. I also had yam (white flesh with purple flecks) lying around getting rather withered so I put that in as well.

Getting a handheld blender* some years ago was a great move because blended soups are one of the easiest things to make and can be made with just about any combination of vegetables and other ingredients that takes your fancy. Besides the sweet potato and yam, this soup also has garlic and onions. More often my blended soups are based around cauliflower and cabbage (vegetables low in salicylates so food-intolerance-friendly), sometimes also pumpkin and potatoes.

The basic method is to lightly fry the vegetables which have been chopped into small pieces so that they cook more quickly. Use garlic and onions/shallots/spring onions/leeks for flavour if so desired, and start frying these first before adding the vegetables. Fry till the onions are limp and the vegetables are gently cooked. The browning effect makes the soup more flavourful. Then add soup stock or water and simmer till the vegetables are very soft and can be easily blended.

I also like to pulverise leftover dishes to ‘remake’ them into a different form. For example, chicken macaroni makes a nice and creamy tasting blended soup! If you include vegetables like leeks, celery, cabbage, potatoes etc. and use wholemeal pasta in the chicken macaroni, you get a pretty nutritious dish. And for times when you have a poor appetite, it’s much easier to swallow a liquid meal than chew through a solid one.

Actually, the sweet potato taste seemed to be more suited to a sweet dish than savoury soup. I imagine one could easily omit the other savoury ingredients, use milk (dairy or other types) for the liquid and make a Chinese-style creamy dessert paste similar to almond, walnut, peanut and sesame pastes.

*N.B.: A jug blender is more of a hassle to use because it’s so big and heavy and harder to wash up, but much quicker and more powerful – I use the jug blender for grinding soya beans when making soya bean milk. However for small amounts of softer, more liquid foods, the handheld blender is more convenient.